There’s a bit of buzz in the tech space lately about fewer features on smartphones—or, at the very least, a trend toward simpler devices. A growing number of people are gravitating to flip phones or other basic cellular devices in efforts to unplug from the constant deluge of notifications and distractions. This trend has become a thought movement of sorts—a transition involving the dumping of smartphones in favor of older style “dumbphones,” if you will, with limited to no connectivity.
Why, you ask? If you’re a techie baulking at the audacity of these phone purists, perhaps a little perspective could help. At Pew’s last tally, 64 percent of American adults owned a smartphone. I’m not a betting man, but if you’re reading this, I’m going to go ahead and assume you’re one of them. Do me a favor and take your smartphone out for a minute. Imagine how much technology is packed into that little (or big, if you fancy jumbo screens) device. Feel its weight in your palm, the weight of all that data and all those applications. How heavy is too heavy? How much is too much? Will our smartphones ever be smart enough for us?
Perhaps we have to really think about why people are looking for less features in their phone? Maybe we need to consider it isn’t about less features, but about greater levels of simplicity. In a time where people are dealing with multiple operating systems, tablets, phablets, laptops and desktops, maybe people are looking for devices that don’t do too much, but do just enough, and offer a user experience that doesn’t require adjustment as they move from device to device.
Whether the trend is moving toward fewer features or just more cohesive (read: simple) experiences, the digital world has many examples of single use and limited features being a key to success, so will the next big thing actually a removal of features? While my first instinct is to say no, let’s break it down because there is a case for this trend, and even if less isn’t the route, the implications do point to people, especially enterprise users seeking a change in how they manage their plethora of devices.
Unpopular Opinion: The Business Case for Fewer Features
According to Strategy Analytics, two percent of sales in the global cellular market in 2015 went to basic phones. At first glance two percent doesn’t sounds like a lot, BUT, that’s a whopping 44 million low-to-no feature phones sold last year. Still, some companies (like LG and Sony) have backed out of the dumbphone industry altogether. Others (like Microsoft and Samsung) continue to produce these devices.
Then you have the new companies on the block. In June, for example, an up and coming company (grown from a kickstarter and named after its flagship product) will release Light Phone, a credit card sized device that costs about $100, can work with your existing phone and is intentionally devoid of all the features we’ve come to expect from our smartphones. (You can get a glimpse at Light Phone in the image below.) In unapologetic adherence to its cause, the company’s slogan for the product is “Thoughtfully simple: Designed to be used as little as possible.”
Let’s take a page from Light Phone’s playbook and apply the concepts with a broader brush. Perhaps what we’re all looking for, really, is balance and consistency when it comes to mobile devices. This is precisely what HP is betting on with their new Elite X3. In the connected age, we want experiences that are consistent whether we’re operating on our phone, tablet, phablet, desktop or laptop. If our employees are running multiple operating systems on multiple devices, the odds are that they’ll eventually run into some incompatibility. Incompatibility breeds downtime, and downtime costs money. Light Phone is simple, serves a distinct purpose and works with your existing technology. Is there a lesson there?
The Answer? It’s All About Mobility
There’s no doubt that today’s smartphones are feature-rich and app-laden. Let’s not forget, though, that the core benefit of one of these devices is so simple that it can be overlooked: I’m talking about mobility and the sheer convenience it builds into our lives. We no longer have to be hard-wired into our infrastructures at all times, nor do we have to peck away on bulky desktops to answer late night emails. Mobility is the convenience, and smartphones represent that convenience manifested into a tool the majority of the population can’t go a day without.
That’s not to say that the plethora of options available on mobile devices aren’t handy and intriguing. Tech is my industry, after all, so I’ll be the first to chime in when a design feature stands out as just plain cool. But has the line between want and need when it comes to our smartphone capabilities started to blur? It’s hard for many people to remember when a phone was just a phone, but there’s clearly been some chatter lately about people wanting to go back. What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
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This article was brought to you in part by HP, Inc. Opinions and thoughts are those of the author.
Image credit: StockSnap.io
Daniel Newman is the Principal Analyst of Futurum Research and the CEO of Broadsuite Media Group. Living his life at the intersection of people and technology, Daniel works with the world’s largest technology brands exploring Digital Transformation and how it is influencing the enterprise. From Big Data to IoT to Cloud Computing, Newman makes the connections between business, people and tech that are required for companies to benefit most from their technology projects, which leads to his ideas regularly being cited in CIO.Com, CIO Review and hundreds of other sites across the world. A 5x Best Selling Author including his most recent “Building Dragons: Digital Transformation in the Experience Economy,” Daniel is also a Forbes, Entrepreneur and Huffington Post Contributor. MBA and Graduate Adjunct Professor, Daniel Newman is a Chicago Native and his speaking takes him around the world each year as he shares his vision of the role technology will play in our future.